The image of cannabis has, over the past few decades, been thoroughly rehabilitated to the point a handy majority of Americans support its full legalization. This is already the case even in states that are considered to be cannabis legalization holdouts, like Texas, where about 2 out 3 people support the unrestricted legal use of cannabis.
Today, it seems that it’s only going to be a matter of time until cannabis is legalized at the federal level, with a controlled status similar to that of alcohol. This is an important point to note. While legal, no one is disputing that alcohol can be a harmful substance in sufficient quantities. However, few people seem to be making this distinction with cannabis.
While cannabis is now considered to be a drug of less concern in Texas compared to opioids and methamphetamines, that does not mean there are no risks to its use.
An underestimated threat
As with alcohol, the misuse of cannabis has, in multiple studies, been associated with several negative effects on users. What is also concerning is that the THC content of cannabis products has increased severalfold in the past few generations, invalidating or severely weakening older studies that demonstrated its relative safety.
To again use alcoholic beverages as an analogy, you probably wouldn’t directly equate a glass or domestic beer with a glass of moonshine liquor. The alcohol percentages and the relative safety of the two products would be vastly different.
Yet, many people fail to make similar distinctions with natural and heritage strains of cannabis and the current products of selective plant cultivation that have dozens of times the THC content.
Below are some of the negative effects of long-term cannabis use, particularly of strains high in THC, the main psychoactive component. Get in touch with Dallas Drug Treatment Centers to find help for cannabis use disorder and other substance use issues.
Risks of long-term cannabis use
While comparatively less risky than other drugs like opioids, MDMA, and methamphetamines, long-term cannabis has been linked to some negative effects. These include but are not limited to the following:
1.) May worsen depression
Similar to alcohol, cannabis may temporarily lift one’s mood. There is even evidence that it has beneficial effects for controlling anxiety. However, some studies suggest that prolonged use can worsen depression symptoms. Regular cannabis use has also long been associated with reduced motivation, which can also exacerbate depression symptoms.
2.) May lower productivity
Studies and anecdotal evidence both tie heavy or regular cannabis use with lowered productivity. Heavy users may feel less inclined to engage in hobbies they previously enjoyed. They may also fall behind in meeting professional and personal obligations, which again may worsen any existing mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety.
3.) Impaired reflexes
An Australian study found that most cannabis-related deaths were due to driving under the influence. Needless to say, people should not drive or operate heavy machinery while on cannabis, as they may not be able to react quickly to dangerous situations. Also notably, older people — one of the fastest-growing cannabis markets today— may also be at greater risk of serious injuries or death from falls.
4.) Increased risk of schizophrenia
Decades of research have confirmed that regular cannabis users are up to five times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those who have never used it. While the reasons behind this are unclear and may involve a genetic component, it’s clear that cannabis use greatly increases the chances of psychotic episodes, particularly when the person uses it daily.
5.) Impaired brain development in adolescents and young adults
If an when cannabis becomes legal, chances are that it’s an extremely bad idea to let your children use it. A growing mountain of evidence demonstrates that cannabis use in children and teens can have catastrophic consequences to their brain development, effectively preventing their brains from fully developing into a typical adult brain.
Unfortunately, there is also evidence that our brains remain in an “adolescent state” until our mid-20s. This means that the elevated potential for brain impairment continues even beyond most existing legal ages for cannabis in most states where recreational use is allowed.
6.) Smoking-related health effects
You don’t have to be a cannabis researcher to realize that breathing in any kind of smoke is probably bad for you. Smoking remains the most popular way of consuming cannabis, and this method has long been associated with increased susceptibility to lung infections as well as respiratory ailments like bronchitis. If you have been prescribed medical cannabis, you should probably be consuming it as edibles or through some other safer method.
Even with the massive support for its federal legalization, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that cannabis is a completely safe substance. While it may be less risky than other drugs — including alcohol — the sheer potency of current strains may change that. Regardless of whether or not it is legal, we should all know the risks so we can make informed choices for ourselves as well as for the people we love.